The Russian kept his arms folded across his chest. Each fist was stuffed under an armpit in a show of immovable defiance. “How do you say in English?” he said again searching for the right word.
“How do I say what in English?” Rapp checked the man’s feet again. They were shoulder-width apart, feet planted firmly on the ground, knees barely flexed. This guy was used to intimidating people.
The Russian’s face lit up with a smile and he said, “Go fuck yourself. Freedom of speech, right? God bless the U.S.A., and fuck all the cops.”
“Fuck all the cops,” Rapp repeated in a voice loud enough that it would get the attention of the other bouncers and some of the people in line.
“That is right. You Americans think we Russians are stupid, but we know your laws. You can’t do shit. You are a cop. You can’t touch me.”
Rapp smiled and nodded. He kept nodding and leaned in a little farther. He got up on his toes and lowered his voice so it would stay between the two of them. “I like your theory, but there’s only one problem with it. I’m not a cop.”
Rapp turned as if he were going to walk away. He took one step with his left foot, and then started to lift his right foot off the ground. Everything looked normal. There wasn’t a single sign that would betray what was about to happen. The toe of his right shoe touched the ground for an instant and then he moved. Rapp’s left leg flexed and his upper body leaned forward. His head turned to the right, and then in one lightning-fast move, Rapp’s right leg shot out like a donkey delivering a kick. The heel of his shoe landed directly on top of the Russian’s right kneecap and kept going, driving the knee past the vertical line and folding the leg back in the wrong direction. A healthy knee would not have been able to take the blow, let alone one that had been carrying around an extra 150 pounds for a good decade. The snapping noise of the knee joint breaking was followed by the crunching sound of tendons tearing away from various bones.
Rapp held his strike at maximum extension for only a fraction of a second and then he was away like a lumberjack clearing the area in case the tree kicked back at him. The Russian stayed upright for another second, and it seemed like an eternity. Rapp’s right hand slid around his belt, found the heavy black baton, and yanked it free. He watched as the Russian began to teeter to his right. Rapp knew exactly what was about to happen. The brain hadn’t registered the catastrophic failure of the right knee. Its internal gyroscope was telling the body that it needed to place weight on the right leg to prevent toppling over. It was something the brain did on autopilot a million times a day, and it always worked, unless some external force got in the way or the right knee had just been shattered.
The Russian didn’t even scream. There wasn’t time. He just kept tipping to his right, stepped as if he was going to catch himself, and then when the full weight of his 350-plus pounds started to come down on the bad knee it folded in the middle like a cheap card table chair. He hit the sidewalk hard, even though his arms reached out to slow his fall. His right temple bounced off the hard, dirty surface and landed facing the toe of his right boot. That was when the screaming started.
RAPP figured he had five minutes to get in and out before things got heated. Maybe as much as fifteen, but that was pushing it. Shutting down the phones and radios would certainly delay things, but the cops had to patrol this neighborhood on a pretty regular basis. Rapp could handle the cops if he had to, but he didn’t feel like spending the night calling in favors and then having to explain himself for the next two days. The whole point of tonight’s exercise was to take this particular problem off the burner and put it behind him.
Life would be a lot easier if he simply marched in, grabbed Johnson by the scruff of his neck, and dragged his lame ass out of the joint. Simple and direct. Rapp knew all about momentum. In a situation like this, the best thing was to keep moving. More often than not, if you had the right bearing and you acted as if you were in charge, people followed your lead.
Rapp looked at the first bouncer and flicked his wrist in a hard downward motion. The two extendable sections of the baton snapped out and into a locked position with a hard click. Rapp pointed the stick at the big bouncer and said, “I gave him three choices. You only get two.”
The bouncer looked down at the big bald Russian. He was writhing on the cement, swearing in his native tongue and staring in shock at his knee.
Rapp said, “You either take me to Peter Sidorov or you spend the next three days in the D.C. lockup with every other shithead and drug addic
t in the city. You’re a big guy, but they’re like hyenas in there. They attack in packs. They might not be able to rape you, but they’ll probably cut you and then you can spend the next year wondering if you have AIDS.”
The bouncer hesitated for maybe a half second and then undid the velvet rope and gestured for Rapp to follow him. Rapp looked at Coleman and said, “You stay here and keep an eye on things. Mick,” Rapp said, looking at Reavers, “come with me.”
The big bouncer led them through the front door. Rapp followed two paces behind, and then Reavers. A long bar with a galvanized top ran for a good hundred feet along the left side of the old warehouse. Exposed metal trusses ran from left to right. Rapp paused for half a step to scope out the high ground. Old warehouses like this one often had a catwalk, but this one didn’t. With one sweep of the place Rapp noted four more bouncers dressed like the four guys out front. To the right was a dance floor with an elevated DJ booth. The place was packed and their pace slowed as they threaded their way through the crowd.
Rapp saw where they were headed a few steps later. There was a VIP section at the far end. A set of stairs on the left and another one on the right led up maybe six feet to a big area that was probably eighty feet wide by twenty feet deep. There was a steel column every ten feet that acted as a divider between the individual VIP seating areas. Red velvet curtains hung in front of each area, swooping down from the rafters to where they were tied off around the columns. Through the openings in the drapes Rapp could see couches and chairs, revelers standing and sitting and in far dark corners, probably doing things that could get them arrested.
The music was loud, so loud that Rapp figured he wouldn’t need to bother with the silencer if he had to start shooting people. They reached the base of the stairs for the VIP area and the big black bouncer slowly climbed four treads and he and another monster began screaming into each other’s ears. Rapp noted the tattoos on the man’s neck and wondered if his theory was flawed. This guy was a lot like the other Russian he’d just crippled except he had hair. The world of the Russian Mafia and their tattoos was a strange one. Over there, you could get killed for wearing a tattoo that you hadn’t earned, but here in the States Rapp wasn’t so sure. Were these guys the real thing or a couple o’ wannabes trying to intimidate, by putting some ink on their skin?
The new guy finished listening to the big black guy, gave Rapp the universal stop motion with his hand, then disappeared into the dim recesses of the VIP area. Rapp immediately worried there was a back door up there somewhere. If Johnson had half a brain and he found out a federal agent was in the building he would bolt. Momentum, he reminded himself. Keep moving forward. Basic battlefield doctrine. Never give your opponent a chance to get his shit together.
Rapp did a quick 360 of the area. He noted two bouncers within sight, but they weren’t looking his way. Rapp smiled as he saw them fiddling with their radios. That alone would cause a diversion. With them focused on trying to fix their radios Rapp saw his opening. Looking over his shoulder at Reavers, Rapp waited for the big guy to lean in. Reavers stepped forward and placed his ear near Rapp’s mouth.
“I don’t want him sneaking out the back door. I’m going to tase this big fella here. Step around to my right and shield me. When I hit him, help me lower him nice and slow.”
Rapp looked up at the big black bouncer and started to move his lips. The bouncer couldn’t hear so he leaned forward and turned his head away from Rapp, offering his right ear. Rapp’s left hand slid inside his jacket and around his waist. He grabbed the taser and kept it close to his body. As he started to ask the bouncer about a back door, he turned his body a shade to the left and with his right hand grabbed the tip of the taser and removed the cartridge. With the two contacts exposed he leaned in real close and placed the contacts on the man’s lower back, only a few inches from his spinal column. Rapp squeezed the trigger and instantly fifty thousand volts passed from the plastic gun into the big guy’s body. While he went rigid Rapp kept the prongs pressed into him and was careful to make sure their bodies didn’t touch. He counted to three in his head and then withdrew the taser.
Reavers was right there. As the big guy started to go down Reavers grabbed him by the shoulders and slowly lowered him so that he was lying on the steps. Rapp snapped the cartridge back into the taser and slid it back into his belt at the small of his back. At this point he didn’t bother to look left or right to check on the other bouncers. He went up the stairs. When he hit the landing at the top his eyes swept the area. They were drawn to a space midway down on the left. The Russian bouncer who had gestured for him to wait was talking to two guys in suits. They were both bigger than Rapp but smaller than the mammoth bouncers. These would be the real professionals. Probably former Special Forces, but not necessarily Russian. They might even be local guys, which Rapp would welcome. Beyond the three men Rapp caught a glimpse of Max Johnson sitting on the couch with two women draped over him.
The big Russian saw Rapp, said something to the man in the suit, and marched off with a really pissed-off look on his face to intercept the two unwelcome visitors. Rapp showed his hands, palms out and up, in an effort to sucker the guy into continuing his headlong march toward him. Rapp kept moving as well, closing the distance at a deceptive pace. Rapp lowered his left hand a notch, making his right hand the more presentable target. He watched the six-and-a-half-foot-tall brown-haired Russian take the bait and begin reaching for his target. Now was the moment of decision for Rapp. At this juncture he had several options. The solar plexus was out because of the guy’s girth. There were too many layers of fat to get through to deliver an incapacitating blow. The second option was the chin, but as Rapp took a final good look he noticed the guy had some pretty decent traps. Traps, short for trapeziuses, were the muscles that anchored a guy’s head to the rest of the body and the more developed they were the harder it was to knock a guy out.
The last and best option carried a risk with it, but Rapp wasn’t too worried. This wasn’t exactly some innocent bystander out on the street. At the exact moment the bouncer’s beefy fingertips were about to grab Rapp’s right wrist, Rapp uncoiled. He sprang off his left foot and transferred about 90 percent of his weight onto his right foot as his hips rotated. The big man never saw it coming. For a move like this, both the closed fist and the open palm were too big to make the precise strike, so Rapp had to use a knuckle strike.
Rapp’s first set of knuckles on his left hand folded under so the tips of his fingers were touching the pads of his palm. His left arm formed a battering ram from the elbow down to the jagged second set of knuckles. The target was one of the weakest points on the human body—the Adam’s apple. Lots of cartilage and soft tissue. It didn’t matter how good or tough you were, if you got hit with a direct strike to the Adam’s apple you were going down. There was only one problem with the move. If it was delivered too forcefully you could kill a man. Just as Rapp was throwing the blow an image flashed before his eyes. It was of the big Russian rolling around on the carpet clutching his throat and dying from a crushed windpipe. It was that image that caused Rapp to lay off a touch, and that was his first mistake.